“It is down to me.”
England manager Gareth Southgate knows only too well the pain a penalty shootout can cause, and he was quick to console Bukayo Saka, then take responsibility, after the Euro 2020 final defeat by Italy.
After Saka’s penalty was saved by Gianluigi Donnarumma, the 19-year-old was understandably distraught – putting his head into his shirt – but he was quickly surrounded by team-mates who again displayed the strong bond that had been evident throughout the tournament.
As Saka fought back the tears, he was hugged by Southgate, whose mind must have turned back to his penalty heartbreak at Euro 96.
Twenty-five years on, he had seen Marcus Rashford hit a post and Jadon Sancho and Saka have their spot-kicks saved as Italy edged home 3-2 after a 1-1 draw.
“It is down to me,” said Southgate of the penalty misses.
“I decided on the penalty-takers based on what they have done in training.
“Nobody is on their own. We have won together as a team and it is on all of us together to not be able to win this game.
“In terms of penalties, it is my call and it totally rests with me.”
Saka, like so many of England’s players, had played a big role in helping Southgate’s side become the first Three Lions squad to reach a major men’s final in 55 years.
He started and impressed as England overcame a significant historical hump by beating Germany in the last 16, and was again in the starting XI for the semi-final win against Denmark.
In that game, at 19 years and 305 days, he became the youngest Englishman to start a match at the semi-final stage or later of a major tournament and it was his cross that led to Simon Kjaer turning into his own net to give England the lead.
After Sunday’s game, Southgate said no blame should be placed on any of his players.
“You cannot have any recriminations,” he said.
“They have done more than any other team in over 50 years.”
‘The best players in the world miss penalties’
Former England captain Alan Shearer said those who missed should be praised for stepping up in such a high-pressure encounter, especially considering their age.
“For the youngsters to say, ‘yes, I’ll go on and take a penalty’… you have to give them credit for that,” Shearer said on BBC One.
“But it will be tough for them now. Hopefully, they will get over it.”
Rio Ferdinand, another former England skipper, agreed.
“There is no way anyone can blame and point the finger,” he said on BBC One.
“It is a lottery. I have seen seasoned players turn away and not take a penalty.
“The best players in the world miss penalties at times.”
‘Everyone should tweet Saka, Sancho and Rashford their support’
Rashford, Saka and Sancho were racially abused on social media after the game.
The Football Association said in a statement: “We could not be clearer that anyone behind such disgusting behaviour is not welcome in following the team.”
And there was huge support for the three players – and the rest of the squad.
Dan Tree: Everyone should be tweeting @BukayoSaka87, @Sanchooo10 & @MarcusRashford their support. They have done the nation proud the past 5 weeks & will be feeling awful right now but they had the guts to stand up and got us to the final!
Stephen: I am glad these young men have Southgate as manager. He’ll look after them in defeat and show them how proud he is of them.
Jamie: Absolutely gutted, but couldn’t be prouder of this team. This team have given us such a fantastic few weeks. Thank you.